Having arrived at the middle of the highest, shakiest, most remote bridge in town, at the most desolate hour, he clutched the railing with both hands (if only he had more hands to hold on with!) and peered down at the violently moving water, or so he imagined it; since the mist clouded his vision he had merely inferred motion from sound. He was broken, torn apart, haunted, unraveled, and by what? A question! You may laugh, and please do (so as to save your sanity), but the greatest minds have become undone by something so simple and so devilish as a question! People often speak of the root of evil, and only the intelligent ones know that it is the soil. But he now knew the real truth, above all others.
Trying to find an answer to this question had led to him juggling around in his skull two absolutely ridiculous, ludicrous, insane, crushing, exasperating ideas. And both of them so glaringly obvious! And if he were to commit himself to either one of them he would be fully, in the truest and most permanent sense, by all textbooks and classification systems, psychotic! That is the sense-shocking beauty of this question and its answers. The question, of course – brace yourself, though you already know it –is this. Where does my body end, and where does the world begin? Formulating it again made him shiver; his spine seemed to extend into his brain. He gazed at the mist and let the droplets guide his reasoning.
Take the first idea, the first answer which is the beacon of the enlightened Western world, the mighty gods imploded, turned inwards into multiplicity, separated from each other, fighting each other – those wretched (noble?) little beings controlling their turf, unwavering, unflinching, unable to touch each other but believing that they do! This first answer is that our skins are our boundaries, ah; we are separated by our most visible contours not just from each other but from the entire world, all of life – the entire order of things! Is there any fact in the universe more obvious to us than this one? We, agents – some even rational they say! –possessing free will, that is independent will, will as independent from other willing beings – we possess a Self that wears the chauffeur’s hat in our bodies, which like vehicles are sharply outlined against and contrasted with the road that some say life resembles. This self contains all of our most prized possessions – memory, emotion, thought, love (yes, love as distinct from emotion – love as self-love, as rational egocentric love the only love of which we can ever be certain) – and it does not simply contain these things, but it is actually the source of them. They spring from the Self, which is somehow other than memory, somehow other than the senses, somehow other than thought. Yet this is not even the crucial point. The Self, this answer commands, is outside the global, holistic order of things. Outside nature; outside existence outside of our bodies. Have you ever encountered a more palpable answer in your life? Has it ever been easier, did it ever require less effort, to accept an explanation? And every one of your senses helps you! You see things outside of yourself, you feel things the sensation of which you haven’t caused, you smell things which you haven’t elicited, and you hear things the sounds of which you haven’t created. And it all leads to this answer, that your senses are your limits, that your experience is absolute, and the fact that your mind is mulling over these issues is further proof of your separateness and your containment in your inner environment. It’s settled, then! I am I and you are you, but I being I is different than you being you!
Yet it was precisely when he had reached an absolute, irreducible certainty, the kind reached before a deep untroubled sleep, that a little voice yelled “a Self? more like a serf!” The other idea had exploded, and he damned the droplets, though he knew of their innocence. The second answer presented itself as magnificently in equal light and darkness as the first. This, the nail in the coffin of his Western values, the all-encompassing god, the totality of existence, Spinoza’s crown, the blur of all things blurry, elicited a wholehearted “Ah, but of course” from deep within him – for how could anyone deny that distinctions do not exist in the entire eternal scheme of things? On what ground may the man stand who dares to claim that a person can be birthed on its own accord in a non-environment! Hah, picture this baby, born in nothing, to nothing, from nothing – and not even nothing, for nothing still constitutes an environment! Picture this baby, can you? Of course he was unable to; he knew that the baby extends from nature, continues from nature, is nature in its very present – it is a serf not a Self because a Self chooses itself while a serf has it chosen for him. The body is no boundary after all – and why are you so desperate for a boundary? – if you want one, just greet your senses. Add them up, and revel in your limitation, love it like you love yourself! How did you think you were talking to people – or rather, with people? As a separate self? Please, how could you reach any kind of understanding, any rapport, any feeling, with and for another person, if you are separated from one another? Did you really think, when you held your darling in your arms not so long ago, that your deepest affection bounced back off her skin, unable to penetrate it? As if that skin were in some way significant! You have come to see the perennial, wavelike self-expression and self-awareness of nature as your own self-awareness, your self-identity even! The insolence, the insolence!
He cringed. Could it be this way? Could he accept it all? Meanwhile, the misty droplets had dissipated, carried by the wind into his eyes and mouth – they were now a part of him. He gripped the railing until his knuckles turned white.